Born in 1964; raised in Indianapolis, IN; married to flutist Kari Miles of the Colorado Evergreen Chamber Orchestra; moved to Denver, CO, in 1975 and took up the trumpet that year; Education: University of Colorado in Boulder 1982-84, Manhattan School of Music in New York City in 1985; Addresses: Record company--Gramavision Records/Rykodisc, Shetland Park, 27 Congress Street, Salem, MA 01970; phone (508) 744-7678, fax (508) 741-4506.

Trumpeter, composer, and band leader Ron Miles is an accomplished master of improvisational and classical jazz. The structure of his musical pieces develops from intuitive, artful ensemble playing with solos imbedded into the composition. He combines the rhythms of hip-hop and the textures of alternative music with New Orleans polyphony and the techniques of jazz collage. Miles is a member of guitarist Bill Frisell's Quartet, an Assistant Professor of Music at Denver's Metropolitan State College, and the leader of his own group of Denver-based musicians, the Ron Miles Trio Plus. After the release of his fourth album Woman's Day in 1997, Down Beat's Dan Ouellette wrote, "(Miles) makes an art out of avoiding the pitfalls of modern jazz.... As a composer, Miles also scores top grades with his twelve originals." Miles told Michael Roberts of Denver Westword, "I think what I have to say hasn't really been done by ther folks," and the compositions on his four releases verify the truthfulness of his statement.

Miles was raised in Indianapolis, IN, and moved with his family to Denver, CO, at the age of eleven because his family hoped the climate would soothe his asthma. His mother taught summer school in Denver and wanted to occupy Ron and his sister while she was in school. A summer band program had an opening, so Miles was taken to the band room and told to choose an instrument. "The trumpet looked nice and shiny," Miles told Roberts, "I didn't even know what it sounded like.... I was the last chair trumpet, but my folks would never let me quit. And I was sad--very, very sad--as a player."

His love of music and of the trumpet in particular wasn't sparked until he was in high school; before then, his perception of music stemmed from the cartoon versions of The Jackson Five and The Archies. He laughingly told Roberts, "If I didn't see it on stage with them, I didn't know what it was." Miles developed musical role models in high school; his earliest influences were Maynard Ferguson and Chuck Mangione. He searched for and read old Down Beat magazines from the 1950s and read about legends like Miles Davis and Clifford Brown. After listening to their music, he turned to Ornette Coleman, Lester Bowie, and musicians who would push the jazz envelope a little further. He taped all of his trumpet playing while in junior high, high school, and college--even when he was practicing. He would replay the tapes of his trumpet playing regularly, often noting what seemed to work in his music and what didn't work. He was constantly editing his own music, using the material that sounded right in future projects, and discarding the material that was less than ideal. Miles taped his first solo in junior high school, knowing he would want it for posterity.

After high school Miles attended the University of Colorado in Boulder and the Manhattan School of Music in New York City. He felt his instructors at both schools didn't promote individuality and striving to create a uniquely personal sound. He told Roberts, "The teachers I had the hardest time with were the ones who said it has to be done a certain way, because it was a given that I would fight tooth and nail to do the exact opposite." When Miles became a music instructor at Metro State and the University of Colorado, his approach was to give his students an anchor in the basic elements of music, present them with an array of options, and then to stand back and watch what they develop on their own. Miles told Down Beat's Linda Gruno, "You don't need school, but the advantage of it is having a community of your peers and hopefully some instructors who can provide some clues.... Schools can help, but they won't make a great player." Miles pointed out to Gruno that musicians have varied talents and leanings, and that some teachers can only teach one way--so if the student differs from the teachers in significant respects, then the student can't learn much from the teacher.

As a teacher, Miles places an emphasis on the contributions that black Americans made to jazz music as well as their starring role in creating, presenting, and developing jazz. He told David Kirby of the Colorado Daily, "Jazz education has really become Stan Kenton.... Guys like Duke Ellington and Fletcher Henderson become fringe elements. I think part of it is pure racism." Although Miles apprecates and draws from the jazz of the early 1960s, his heart and soul is with improvisational jazz, especially with artists like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, and Albert Ayler. On his second release, Witness, Miles included the Charles Mingus classic "Pithecanthropus Erectus" and Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower is a Lovesome Thing," and Thelonius Monk's "Ugly Beauty." Other musical influences on the pop end of the spectrum include Kurt Cobain from the alternative/grunge band Nirvana, Prince, Public Enemy, James Brown, U2, and Living Colour. Olu Dara, Sonny Rollins, John Lennon and Paul McCartney were also listed by Miles as musical influences, underscoring his broad range of interest. Kirby wrote, "This is Miles' game, the turf he's staked out for himself: his own pieces, stretching between major key folk balladry and cerebral compositional exercise, and some overlooked covers by masters gone by."

Miles released Distance For Safety on Prolific Records in 1986, followed by Witness on Capri Records in 1990. He joined the Bill Frisell Quartet in 1995, and released My Cruel Heart on Gramavision in 1996. All of the compositions on My Cruel Heart were original, and Miles featured the music of his wife on the release, flutist Kari Miles of the Colorado Evergreen Chamber Orchestra. Miles doesn't hesitate to infuse his music with political themes or current events; "Howard Beach" on My Cruel Heart was a personal comment on the attack of three black men by a group of white teenagers in the Howard Beach area of Queens, NY, "Erase Yourself" was a song of empathy for the wife of mayor Marion Barry after his infamous crime in Washington D.C., and "Say It Loud" pays homage to funk and soul music's James Brown.

Woman's Day was released in 1997, featuring all original compositions and bassist Artie Moore, drummer Rudy Royston, guitarist Bill Frisell, guitarist Todd Ayers, bass clarinetist Mark Harris, pianist Eric Gunnison, and bassist Kent McLagen. The tone of Woman's Day ranges from chamber music contours to funk and churning thrash music. Down Beat's Ouellette wrote of Woman's Day, "{Miles has} obviously been picking up pointers on how to stretch the jazz boundaries," which is exactly what Miles set out to do when he reluctantly chose the trumpet as his instrument for summer band practice back in 1975.

by B. Kim Taylor

Ron Miles's Career

Became a music instructor at Metropolitan State College and the University of Colorado; released Distance For Safety on Prolific Records in 1986; released Witness on Capri Records in 1990; joined the Bill Frisell Quartet in 1995; leader of his own group of Denver-based musicians, the Ron Miles Trio Plus; released My Cruel Heart on Gramavision in 1996; released Woman's Day in 1997, featuring bassist Artie Moore, drummer Rudy Royston, guitarist Bill Frisell, guitarist Todd Ayers, bass clarinetist Mark Harris, pianist Eric Gunnison, and bassist Kent McLagen.

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